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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 20, 2017 2 years ago

Big time

The Tampa region has become a hub for tech jobs in the last three years. That includes straight up software and IT companies and the technology units for larger companies and call centers.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

The Tampa region has become a hub for tech jobs in the last three years. That includes straight up software and IT companies and the technology units for larger companies and call centers.

St. Paul, Minn.-based Sagitec Solutions, to cite one of several examples, a software developer with a niche in unemployment insurance, recently announced plans to hire 60 peopleĀ in Tampa.

In September, Virginia-based Iron Bow Technologies announced plans to create 170 IT and other jobs in Hillsborough County, part of an expansion and new contact center.

“Without a doubt, Tampa is Florida's technology hub,” says Daniel James Scott, executive director of the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, a nonprofit organization for technology leaders that's played a key role in branding Tampa as a high-tech city. “We're twice as big, growing twice as fast and twice as dense as Miami.”

But in the late 1990s there was basically no hub. Scott was a budding tech entrepreneur back then, and says he didn't “even understand there was a tech community here.”

The forum was founded in February 2000. In the early days it mostly hosted panels, spots filled by the limited number of technology business leaders.

“The three people that own technology companies sat on stage and talked about how to solve problems,” recalls Scott, named executive director of the TBTF in 2015 and a former Business Observer 40 under 40 recipient. “You could count the number of technology entrepreneurs on one hand.”

The organization has since grown significantly, not only in members, but also in its mission to connect technology leaders.

In the 2000s, the group focused mostly on growing its membership base with local companies. But in the past few years, the mission has grown to include branding Tampa as a thriving technology city nationwide.

Shark attack
Grant Phelan and his father, Tony, opened their first Pinchers Crab Shack in October 1997 — an inauspicious beginning.

The place was a joint in a Bonita Springs strip mall, stuck between a pet food store and a hair salon. “It was hard to draw traffic,” says Grant Phelan, then 19. “It was tough to get people to come in and try us.”

The first Pinchers was 1,500 square feet, enough room for 12 tables and a kitchen. Tony Phelan scoured dumpsters for cast-off items to help decorate and give the place a Jimmy Buffett vibe. They had six employees.

Two decades later, that one location has grown into a budding Phelan family hospitality empire. There are now a dozen Pinchers Crab Shacks, from Tampa to Key West, and Bonita Springs-based Phelan
Holdings, with 625 employees, had $37.5 million in revenue in 2015. Other entities in the company include a Texas Tony's Barbecue Shack in Naples and Island Crab Co., a seafood supplier.

The younger Phelan says the plan back in fall 1997 wasn't necessarily to expand on the west coast of Florida. It was a tad more humble: to serve seafood in a down-home atmosphere, the type of place that might be on the water, but is actually inland, with more people and lower prices.

“We wanted to be a Florida place,” says Grant Phelan, now 39 and recently named CEO of the company. (The elder Phelan remains involved in the overall direction of the company.)
Grant Phelan says while the restaurant industry can be difficult, growing a business that now has 600 employees has been his greatest accomplishment. The payroll includes two people, a bar manager at a Bonita Springs location and an assistant manager in Naples, who have been there all 20 years.

“We've built something really special here,” Phelan says.

20/20 vision

Fueled by massive population growth, key Florida industries have gone through massive transformations in the past two decades

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